Are lessons ever learned in time?
Thanks to the many posters (I skimmed this lot, TBH) offering informed comment, triggered it seems by a reference to the dreadful loss of the previous Prince of Wales in WWII. I read somewhere that Churchill was profoundly depressed by the news, as well he might have been: terrific speech-maker and motivator he may have been, but his strategic blunders and interference with military decisions cost the UK very dearly. Perhaps his support for Bletchley Park and sensible advocacy for Magic/Ultra is some compensation.
My point to topic, though, is whether politicians and defence planners are making the same mistake now, with regard to aircraft carriers, that was made before and during WWII with regard to battleships. Overly influenced by Mahanist doctrine (the assumed critical importance of a decisive naval battle between powers equipped with the most and biggest battleships, to over-simplify horribly) and a seeming vindication thereof at Tsushima Strait, the Great Powers cruised well into the early years of WWII still wedded to battleships, unaware that they had been rendered almost obsolete by carrier air power. The war in the Pacific theater might have proceeded very differently if the Nips had sunk American carriers at Pearl Harbor, instead of battleships. (I know the carriers weren't there on the day of the attack, but my point is that strategic priorities and planning might have brought about a different type/timeline of attack, with a very different result.)
Now, these vast and majestic carriers may in their turn be frighteningly vulnerable in an age when adversaries like China and Russia (and even potential ones like India) have fielded super- and hypersonic anti-ship missiles and have an abundance of conventionally powered, quiet submarines. Not to mention the rising threat of drones: it simply doesn't take that much well-placed HE on a busy flight deck to ground a carrier's air wing for a day or two. The CAPTOR equivalent of an underwater drone can lurk for weeks until it hears the unique sound of a supercarrier's screws overhead, follows its programming and detonates half a tonne of HE under the ship's keel: or among its rudders.
I nurture the suspicion that we are indeed repeating exactly the battleship mistake, spending vast sums on assets which will prove remarkably vulnerable to new technologies and ways of war-fighting. If I am right (and scared as I am of China, I hope I am wrong) then the inevitable collision in the Pacific is going to turn into a shockingly rude awakening for the USA ... which, if it were 'lucky', would get a bloody nose-cum-reality-check from Iran, giving it time to adjust its strategy and procurement policies before the whole house is bet on a conflict with China.
There is perhaps some evidence of a gradual awakening, like the recent order for a bunch of extra SSNs for Pacific duties, but then again, I wonder too; have we really thought through the survivability of these boats, if pitted against an opponent who can, for the price of a single nuclear hunter-killer, deploy 5,000 passive- and active-sonar drones above and below the inversion layer, each of them ready to phone home at a moment's notice?
Like generals, admirals have a habit of fighting the last war, and it may be cause for grave concern.